The Latest in Denver’s Runoff Elections

The Latest in Denver’s Mayoral Runoff

As covered in Denverite, the election for mayor has recently been something of an endorsement arms race. The Chamber has not endorsed any candidate for mayor or city council, and while this is not a cumulative list, there are a few highlights to be aware of.

Lisa Calderón — the second top-finishing woman in the mayor’s race — who leads Emerge Colorado, recently announced her support for Mike Johnston. Johnston, she said, listened to concerns Calderón and her coalition had about his past support of education reform issues, and Johnston committed to not taking over the school board, which is separate from the mayor’s office.

In the beginning of May, Johnston also held a press conference in Denver’s Civic Center Park with new endorsements for his candidacy for Denver’s next city mayor. Former mayoral candidates and state senators joined Rep. Leslie Herod in Civic Center Park to put their support behind Mike Johnston. Formal mayoral candidates include Ean Thomas Tafoya, Terrance Roberts, Al Gardner, and Jim Walsh, and State Senators James Coleman and Julie Gonzales were also in attendance. These endorsements join other recent endorsements Johnston has received since Election Day, including former Mayor of Denver Federico Peña, and former First Lady of Colorado, Dottie Lamm.

Johnston likely hopes to gain voters with his endorsement from state Senator Gonzales, who represents northwest district and downtown Denver, and now Lisa Calderón with areas Johnston lost in the April Election.

Notably, Johnston also earned the endorsement of former Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll and former Colorado Senate President Peter Groff, as well as The Denver Post Editorial Board.

Meanwhile, as Johnston was holding his press conference, Kelly Brough announced endorsements from the Denver Pipefitters Local 208, Denver Plumbers Local 3 and the Hispanic Contractors of Colorado, joining her list of endorsements since election day which include former Mayor of Denver Wellington Webb and State Senator Chris Hanson.

Earlier that week, Brough held a press conference accepting her endorsement from the Local 858 Denver Firefighters, the Denver Police Protective Association and former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.

Most recently, Brough secured four endorsements from several Democratic leaders with just under two weeks to go before Denver’s runoff election day. Howard Chou, former 1st vice chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, Patricia Shaver, former 2nd vice chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, Marc Kamin, former chair of the Denver Democratic Party and Democratic Party activist Susan Rodgers joined together in endorsing Brough. Other notable Democratic endorsers include former Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler, former state Rep. Wilma Webb, former state Senate President Joan FitzGerald, former Senate Minority Leader Sen. Lucía Guzmán, former state Sen. Joyce Foster, state Rep. Steven Woodrow, state Rep. Alex Valdez, former state Sen. Pat Pascoe and former state Representative Rosemary Marshall.

The most recent endorsements come less than a week after the Denver Republican Party endorsed Brough for mayor.

What Have We Learned From Recent Runoff Debates?

Last Thursday, the University of Denver’s (DU) Sturm Hall saw another runoff debate, this time hosted by the DU Center on American Politics and the DU Scrivner Institute of Public Policy, in partnership with the Denver Gazette, Colorado Politics and Biennial of the Americas. Dr. Seth Masket, a DU professor of political science and director of the Center on American Politics, and Luige del Porto, editor at the Denver Gazette and Colorado Politics were the moderators for this debate.

In a summary review of the debate by the DU Clarion, the candidates addressed the laundry list of issues that have been hot topics throughout the campaign, including housing, transportation, safety and qualifications. None of the allotted one-minute rebuttals were used during the one-hour debate. The candidates rarely fundamentally disagreed on policy, though the plans they offered differed.

Students asked questions on affordable housing, gang violence, reliability issues for students with RTD, Denver International Airport and the environmental impact of electric vehicles and buildings. Candidates also briefly addressed the expiration of Title 42 and the increased number of migrants the metro area has experienced.

At the end of the debate, candidates were asked to hold up a red card for no, or a green card for yes, in response to questions. Candidates agreed on four of the five questions asked in this format, the one difference being on whether candidates support arresting homeless people in encampments if they refuse to leave and get help. Brough answered yes, while Johnston answered no. Read more on this debate.

Meanwhile, last Tuesday, 9NEWS hosted their last debate before the runoff elections. The debate was moderated by 9NEWS’s Kyle Clark, Marshall Zelinger and Anusha Roy asking questions on homelessness, housing, public safety for Denver Public Schools, candidates past work experiences and more. Watch parts of the debate from 9NEWS.

In addition, CBS News partnered with Regis University to host their mayoral debate on May 11 with Dominic Dezzutti as the moderator. Watch the full debate.

Just this week, Denver7 hosted their debate in partnership with Colorado Public Radio, The Denver Post and Denverite. Issues debated include school security, homelessness, crime, transportation, affordability, housing and the migrant surge in Denver. You can watch the debate on Denver7.

Major Questions for Election Day

Will female voters show up for Brough?

As media outlets have highlighted, Kelly Brough hopes to receive support from Denver’s women voters in the runoff election.

Denver has never elected a woman to be mayor, and Brough’s competitive candidacy could make history for the city. Brough hosted a forum in the beginning of May focusing on breaking the glass ceiling. One of the primary points of the discussion was the importance of representation in public office. “We’re taught leadership is tall, it has a deep voice, it is commanding, it’s decisive, it dresses in a suit and a tie … and that’s not me,” Brough said. Joan Fitz-Gerald, the first woman president of the Colorado Senate, who also spoke at the event stated, “When women see women in action, then they’re more apt to think, ‘I could do that.'”

However, not all women have Brough’s back – Lisa Calderón joined Leslie Herod endorsing Johnston after finishing in third and fifth place respectfully, in the general election.

How will fundraising impact the race?

Mike Johnston has now brought in more direct campaign contributions than Kelly Brough in the first round of the Denver mayor’s race off in the runoff stage of the election.

Johnston has now also collected the most campaign contributions of any mayoral candidate. Both campaigns filed reports this week covering their fundraising from March 30 through April 30.

In looking at the Denver Campaign Finance Dashboard, Johnston has now raised $4,460,411.18 and Brough has raised $2,936,674.36. Brough does have more cash on hand than Johnston with 90% of her donors being from Colorado, compared to 71% of Colorado donors for Johnston.

Campaign finance has been a major sticking point in these municipal elections. This was the first Denver election that utilized the Fair Elections Fund, a campaign financing tool designed to promote grassroots fundraising and mitigate the influence of big dollar donors. If Johnston emerges victorious, it may call into question the efficacy of the fund and the impact fundraising prowess has on electoral results.

Who is in the lead as we head into Election Day?

The runoff election for Denver mayor is a tight race with Mike Johnston holding a slight edge over Kelly Brough. The bipartisan poll published exclusively by Axios Denver in April reported Johnston is supported by 38.9% of likely voters compared to 34.1% for Brough.

The margin of error is plus-or-minus 4.8 percentage points, essentially showing the candidates in a statistical tie. And 27% of voters remain undecided. “The mayoral race is close, it’s anyone’s game,” said Democratic pollster Brad Chism, who conducted the survey with Republican firm Cygnal.

With early voter turnout sow in the general election, it could be another close race if the remaining 27% of voters wait till it gets closer to the runoff election on June 6.

City Council Runoffs

One potential runoff race was settled early when a candidate dropped out, so now three races are heading to the June 6 runoff.

Notably, each runoff features a candidate endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), meaning results could lead to a significant shift in the politics of Denver City Council and the city itself – with potentially wide-ranging ramifications for the business community.

Shannon Hoffman beat out Noah Kaplan in a tight race for second place in District 10 and will compete in a runoff against incumbent Councilmember Chris Hinds. Incumbent Candi CdeBaca will compete in a runoff against Darrell Watson (in 2019, CdeBaca came in second and then won the runoff for District 9 against incumbent Albus Brooks.) And former RTD Board member Shontel Lewis moved into first in the tight race for District 8 and will compete in a runoff against Brad Revare.

District 7

The runoff for District 7 is over after Nick Campion withdrew his candidacy once finding out he’s a soon-to-be-father.

Flor Alvidrez will now assume the seat formerly held by Jolon Clark. Alvidrez has strong connections to small business and Denver political leaders, signaling a practical approach to legislating for the city.

District 8

Brad Revare serves as the director of Colorado Succeeds and is running on issues of representation and constituent service, equitable investment for all neighborhoods in District 8, safer streets and public safety.

Shontel Lewis served on the Board of RTD, and runs on the issues of health and wellness, housing and homelessness, transportation, public safety, climate change and community engagement.

District 9

Out of the three City Council races taking place June 6, the District 9 race between incumbent Candi CdeBaca and challenger Darrell Watson may be the most intense, according to Denverite.

Incumbent CdeBaca is the first queer Latina and Democratic Socialist to sit on the dais. Prior to becoming a city council member, CdeBaca was a social worker and community activist. CdeBaca defeated incumbent Albus Brooks in the 2019 election. CdeBaca’s campaign focuses on issues on housing and the economy, health and safety of communities, and creating a government with more community voices.

Watson currently serves on the Housing Stability Strategic Advisors board. He’s also the board chair of the Denver Park Trust and previously served as a co-chair on the Denver Game Plan for a Healthy City task force, which created a 20-year plan for the city’s parks and recreation system. Watson previously ran twice for council. Once in 2007, when he lost to Carla Madison and again in 2011, when he dropped out of the race due to a cancer diagnosis. Watson’s campaign focuses on issues of social equity, housing and economy, homelessness, public safety, climate and transportation and the Park Hill Golf Course.

District 10

In the runoff to represent District 10, incumbent Councilmember Chris Hinds is running against political newcomer Shannon Hoffman. Hinds topped voting in the district in April with around 35.6% of the vote. Hoffman came in second with around 27%.

Hinds’ background is in computer science and finance, but after an accident put him in a wheelchair, he got involved in politics as a private citizen to advocate for people with disabilities. After helping pass a state law expanding parking protections for people with disabilities, he ran for and won the Council seat in 2019. Hoffman’s campaign issues include public safety, housing, transportation, climate issues, homelessness and inclusivity.

Hoffman’s background is in social activism and nonprofits. She worked with the Montbello Organizing Committee on the FreshLo project, which is bringing a grocery store and affordable housing to a food desert. She also worked on a housing project with Emancipation Theater. Hoffman’s campaign issues include affordable housing, public safety and wellbeing, community collaboration, homelessness, climate and sustainability issues and workers’ rights.

Ballots are due by 7:00pm on June 6. 

2023 Legislative Session Recap

After another intense legislative session, the Chamber has compiled some of our biggest takeaways for 2023. Read our legislative session recap by pressing the button below. Read our legislative session recap.